- Store parking lots can present dangers for workers and customers alike.
- Roughly half of all deaths one outlet recorded at retailers in early 2022 occurred in parking lots.
- Walmart and Target employees say they fear gun violence and unsafe drivers in parking lots.
Austin Cullon was only 27 years old when he died on the job at Walmart.
On April 6, Cullon was doing an everyday task — returning shopping carts in the parking lot of his Walmart store in Loveland, Colorado — when a driver barreled into him.
When police officers arrived at the store, they found Cullon trapped under the vehicle, a 2016 Chevrolet sedan, and he was pronounced dead at the scene. The police identified the driver as an 83-year-old woman.
The incident illustrates a particular danger for retail workers that lies not within the confines of their brick-and-mortar stores but outside them, in the parking lot.
At least 80 people were killed in US retail parking lots in the first quarter of 2022, per the most recent data from the retail loss-prevention news site The D&D Daily. Those deaths accounted for 49% of fatalities on retailers’ properties identified by the site, which tracks deaths using news reports.
Insider recently spoke with a dozen Walmart and Target workers about the most dangerous parts of their jobs. Many of them identified the parking lot as the place they felt most unsafe.
The employees requested anonymity because they were concerned about professional repercussions and because they weren’t authorized to speak with the media. Insider has verified their identities.
Retail stores’ parking lots are the scene of both violence and accidents
Parking-lot violence is not uncommon, according to several workers and media reports.
Roughly five years ago, one Walmart worker’s manager — who was pregnant at the time — was getting ready to go home for the day from their store in Illinois. The worker told Insider the manager was on her phone as she got to the car, continuing her conversation inside.
But in broad daylight, the worker said, “someone got in the car behind her with a gun.”
The manager gave up her car.
Shoppers and bystanders face hazards too: Within the past few weeks alone, a person was shot to death by a family member after an apparent fight in a Walmart parking lot in Forth Worth, Texas, per authorities. Only a day before, a bystander was shot in the neck when people began fighting in a Walmart parking lot in Oklahoma City, according to the police. And a California man said another Costco customer beat him bloody in a dispute over a parking space, though authorities declined to press charges.
Far more likely than being hit by fists or gunfire is the probability of being struck by a car, several retail workers told Insider.
“We get people all the time that come and turn the parking lot into their own personal race course,” a Walmart employee of eight years said of her store in Minnesota.
A Target worker from Minnesota said he and a colleague spent time on a quiet day counting how many drivers came to a complete stop at a stop sign near the front door.
“Forty percent just blew right through the stop signs,” he said.
A Texas Target worker said the company had started requiring employees who retrieve carts or fulfill drive-up orders to wear bright, reflective vests to make them more visible, but the safety gear doesn’t always catch the attention of drivers, “especially people who are texting,” the worker said.
Parking-lot dangers reflect broader societal problems
With hundreds of millions of shoppers visiting Walmart and Target’s 6,400 combined US stores each week, the companies’ parking lots serve as a microcosm of the dangers in the wider world, from physical violence to car crashes.
But while individual human behavior is difficult to control, parking lots can be redesigned to significantly improve pedestrian safety, according to analysis from the Robson Forensic civil-engineering expert Gordon Meth.
Meth cited a 2017 study of 45 New Jersey municipalities. It that found that nearly one-fifth of vehicle-pedestrian crashes in those municipalities occurred in parking facilities, of which more than half occurred on the properties of shopping centers, grocery stores, or big-box retailers.
Robson Forensic research has found that speed bumps and one-way lanes actually create more risk for pedestrians than they solve, as bumps can cause people to trip and carts to overturn, and one-way lanes encourage drivers to speed.
Meth recommends other design measures, like narrower roadways in front of stores; two-way parking lanes with perpendicular rather than angled spaces, and physical barriers that direct traffic in ways that help slow the speed of cars and force drivers to remain more alert.